DAYTON — Tom Peters is spending this winter at home instead of in the classroom with his special education students or helping with the school’s blood drives.
January Ohio Blood Donor Awareness Month has become a time of reflection. After 178 lifetime donations, blood has come back to the Xenia High School grad.
Peters has donated for decades, averaging four or five donations per year. He would donate at least once a year at Belmont High School — where he teaches — during its fall or spring blood drive.
“I think if you can see that your teachers do it, that’s encouragement,” he said.
But his students have not seen Peters since he left school early on Nov. 19, 2019.
“I was feeling very strange,” he said. “I had been battling something for weeks. When I would take a flight of steps my legs felt like they were full of lead. I drove home and told my wife I didn’t feel well. I stood up and felt light headed. I said I need to go to the ER.”
As a blood donor, Peters was familiar with normal hemoglobin readings in his blood. At least 13 grams per deciliter is required to donate. At the hospital he learned his hemoglobin had dropped to six.
“I wound up getting four blood transfusions,” he said.
The first was in the ER. Three more transfusions were performed during the night.
“It was so surreal,” Peters said. “All those time times donating blood and seeing that bag of blood wrapped up with the tube and carried away, and to see that coming back.”
Receiving blood was the first line of defense. Next his doctors had to find out why he was losing blood.
“All they could tell me was that I was bleeding internally,” Peters said. “They knew it was nothing they could see.”
An arthroscopic procedure and biopsy the next day revealed a tumor bleeding in his stomach. He underwent partial gastrectomy surgery in December.
“Thankfully it was not cancer,” Peters said, “which was a blessing.”
Belmont began a new era in 2011 when it moved to its brand new “Bison Blue” building on Wayne Avenue. The Bison reached another milestone the following year when Belmont hosted its first Community Blood Center blood drive.
School nurse Marian Doukoure made the case for the first blood drive and is still the coordinator. She said students might miss class time but would learn valuable lessons about community service. She drew volunteer support from the National Honor Society and the Navy Junior ROTC.
It was natural for NHS to help with the blood drives because Peters was serving as the NHS advisor. He had volunteered for the job to keep the program alive.
“No one else was doing it and I didn’t want it dry up and go away,” he said.
Peters knows what it’s like to have part of his high school years taken away. He was a freshman at Xenia High School in April 1974 when a deadly category F5 tornado stuck the town. It claimed 33 lives, including 12 children, and destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses.
“It was a school day, but it was after school,” he said. “Almost all the schools were pretty much destroyed. We finished the year being bussed to Fairborn and Beavercreek and used their schools at the end of their days. I went all the way through high school that way.”
Rebuilding took time.
“They brought in modular classrooms,” Peters said. “The high schools used them in the morning and the junior highs used them in the afternoon, at what was then the Warner Junior High campus. I graduated in ’77. The class of ‘78 graduated from the new high school.”
Peters went to the University of Dayton and started donating blood. He made many donations outside of the CBC area while working in northwestern Ohio. He returned to Dayton and recognized the need for special education teachers. He’s now in his 12th year at Belmont and hopes to be cleared to return to work in late February or early March.
“I’m getting stronger every day,” Peters said. “One day last week I ended up back at the hospital and spent the night in ICU. My calcium was out of whack.”
He hopes to back at work before Belmont’s spring blood drive on April 29. After giving more than 22 gallons of blood in his lifetime, he’ll have to wait and see if he can become a donor again.
“I never thought I would need blood,” Peters said. “I certainly plan to return as a donor, when I am healthy enough to do so. I guess things have gone a full circle. I never thought it would occur, but this is my story now.”